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Morceaux de Fantaisie

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He lived in the rivers and the streams, the foam in the current, the undertow beneath. He meandered his way through teeming shoals of trout and perch, darting past the snails and the turtles and feeling the pebbles and moss skimming his feet where he alights. He rode through the rapids with glee, vaulting from rock to rock and down the singing cascades into the waiting pools below. He spun with the whirlpools, exhilarated by the speed of them. And when he at last laid himself to rest in the tide pool beside the sea, he reveled in the tadpoles tickling his limbs. 

"Had a good day I take it, eh, little wave?" the Boulder he had rested himself upon said, his rumbling voice causing ripples across the still water. 

The River grinned, splashing the back of his hand upon the other’s rocky shell. "A fine day, indeed, my sedentary friend. And you? Another thrilling evening of sinking more and more into the mud?" 

The Boulder chuckled, his song a cresting boom that sank the loose pebbles down into their watery midst. "Perhaps you might learn something if you managed to stay still for more than a moment, nymph."

The River shrugged, unconcerned. "Like what, oh Lord of the One, Particular Spot? Share with me your wisdom!"

The Boulder shifted to face him, the weathered lines of his face wreathed in mossy growth. "Wisdom? No. I ran out of that eons ago. But perhaps a warning, instead?"

The River cocked his head to the side, brow furrowed in a splash across his placid features. "What warning?"

"Danger, young one. In sight of us all." And then he stood, a rare occurrence, leaving the water to rush into the large void left behind. He rose and he towered, upwards and upwards, the Living Earth breaking and reforming. The River stared in awe, never having seen his friend move from his perch. But the Boulder — No! The... the Crag? — reached down, offering a hand to his young companion.  

The River grinned and hopped into his massive hand, a shallow pool forming around his feet even as the Crag carried him upwards. 

And then he saw It. The great Wood where he lived encased in an orange glow. Dark billows of smoke rose through the air as the land was consumed, all that was green and growing falling before the terrible power of Fire. 

The River had seen Fire before, small dots of orange light in the distance, larger blazes where Lightning struck, even an entire copse set alight. But he had never seen the likes of this, the hungry conflagration devouring all without care. He gulped even as he straightened his stance, for he felt he had nothing to fear; he was a child of Sea and Moon. What worry had he for the Fire's rampage? 

"I can see the thoughts of your untried head, little wave. Do not go near it. You may think you've nothing to fear, that your dominion would protect you, but a blaze this hot would boil you from the inside. It is dangerous, do you hear?"

The Spirit nodded; he had heard, yes. The question was, would he take heed?

It seems the Crag had much the same thought, even as he lowered the River back into his pool. "Please, have a care. I have seen much in my time. And you are young, too young to have borne witness to this tragedy before. I would not see you perish for your foolish curiosity."

There was a dark and twisted sadness in the Crag's old face, the lines of heartbreak and terror carved like gouges upon his shell. And the River knew he spoke from experience. Perhaps even a personal loss. He stared back once more at where the dark smoke burned its way across his Father's domain, blotting out the stars with its hazy veil. And he turned back to the Crag, his dearest friend. "Yes. Yes, I promise." 

The soft sigh spoke of relief even as the stone reverberated. "Good. Very good, little wave. Then I will see you on the morrow." And with that, the Crag sank his weight back down, settling into the damp fissure left behind from his movement. And once more, he was the same Boulder of memory. 

The River drifted along his tide pool, the tadpoles undisturbed and uncaring of the whims of the Spirits around them. And as he settled himself back along the Boulder's broad back, he thought to himself, 'I promise that I will not perish from my foolish curiosity... But no more than that.'

He only waited til his Father was high above him before he drew back into the depths. He grinned to himself moving silently along the riverbed, making his way back upstream where the ashes rained down like snow and the scorched earth cried in despair.

____________________


The current flowed swift as the River ascended, journeying his way back through the white foam and the pounding cataracts. He moved swift and silent along the riverbed without a pause to splash among the shallows or spin amidst the eddies or pet the gleaming scales of the large bass that meandered by. He still had far to go this night if he were to sate his curiosity and he would not risk losing this rare chance for the sake of fickle distraction.

But even in his hurry, he noticed something amiss: the woodsong was silent, no trace of nightingale or warbler or exuberant mockingbird. The thrushes were absent, the killdeer were hushed and the low, eerie calls of the herons were missing entirely. Not even the deep hoots of the owls could be heard. The chittering cicadas were likewise muted and the grasshoppers with their singing legs. No croak of the bullfrog shot through the night and the lightning bugs, those twinkling lights like those far up above, were missing. All along his banks where nocturnal life flourished, the absence of the woodland creatures was keenly felt. No deer or raccoon or timid shrew, no pack of wolves or mighty elk, not even the smallest field mouse came to lap at his banks.

The River had never known fear before, nor the wariness that came with it, not from the safety of his Mother’s rocking waves or bathed in the serene light of his Father, above. But this silence, this stillness? Perhaps he might learn it here where the only sound left was his own babbling and the wind through the reeds.

But continued he, despite his misgivings, on and up towards the blinding glow wreathing the night sky in shades of ochre and umber and deep, deep sienna, colors like the birds that had once fluttered above or the tiny, darting fish he has learned from his Mother's lap. The land grew more hazy as he passed and the smoke that had beckoned him with a promise of mystery now sat thick and heavy upon the land. Dense falls of ash rained down from the sky, singeing the earth before sputtering in the night air. The orange glow was growing ever closer, now. He could see the barest hint of flame through the foliage. The River skimmed the surface, watching as the ash was washed away by the current, tiny wisps of black curling their way through the water. He rounded one, final bend and—

He arose from the water and beheld Devastation.

The Blaze. The Inferno. The Fire stretched its yawning hands further than he could tell, as if the world in its entirety had been set alight in its wake. The dense curtain of flame enveloped all, stretching high into the night sky as if to outshine the very Moon, himself. 

The very air crackled and spit and the River kept himself submerged against the onslaught, nothing but the top of his head peeking up beyond the banks. Even so, he felt the burn where the errant embers danced along his surface or where ash fell to cover him. 

The noise of the blaze was cacophonous and terrifying, the crackling of the wood, the snapping of burnt branches, the loud, percussive exhales of the flora's dying breath. All around him was the wailing of the Spirits, each one consumed by this seemingly-unstoppable force. But one scream far louder than the rest caught his ear. 

"No! No no, stop! This has gone on long enough! Relent! Curse you!

It was a deep voice but one filled with anguish, the timbre of despair resolving in a rough, raspy exhale. He sounded close, this helpless being. Perhaps close enough for the River to help? 

He inched closer, bearing more of himself upwards and ignoring the stinging heat scorching his body to steam. But it was no mere woodland Spirit caught in the Fire's clutches. For there, in the very heart of the flame itself, a figure fought. He was bright, shining, incandescent, glowing white but for his edges and the noticeable criss-cross of wounds across his body where a vibrant orange played contrast. One solitary shadow stood out amongst his brilliance, a scar like blackened soot there across his face. In every place but that one, the conflagration writhed, newly-formed tongues of flame birthed from his effulgent skin. They lashed at him, struck out in their petulance, adding more decoration to the pattern of his body, new wounds forming before the old could fade away. His wrists were encircled with ever-shifting tendrils, moving, snapping, changing all the while, but never relenting. He noticeably struggled against them, digging his heels deeply into the chipped and cracked sod, but to no avail. He was pulled along at the whim of the flames and no cry from his lips nor pleading nor supplication could stop its progress. 

And it was then, as the faint semblance of a breeze tossed the flames into a frenzy, that the Fire opened his eyes, glowing white as like the rest of him, and at last the two beheld each other.

The moment stretched out, tense like the crest of a wave before falling. And just like a wave, it came crashing down just the same.

“What are you doing here?!” the Fire bellowed. “Come to mock?! To deride?! Are you here for the spectacle, Water Spirit?!”

The River drew back, tiny waves lapping up onto the shoreline and dousing the small pyres there. Indeed, it had been the spectacle he’d come to witness. But here and now, watching this fiery being writhe and wail with anguished steps? His curiosity be damned. “I came to offer my aid!”

The Fire only scowled. “Your aid is unwanted. Begone from here now, little puddle.” But even as he spoke, he fought, making no headway in reining in the conflagration, but trying, nonetheless. He growled low, the crackle of kindling. “Leave! You would already have turned tail if any sense was gifted to you!” And his fury was apparent as it fueled the blaze higher.

The River could not help but cower before this being. For all his lineage, he had not the ferocity of his Mother nor the bitter chill his Father held mastery over. His current was strong, his whirlpools, formidable, his waterfalls, daunting. But he was contained. Kept to his banks but for the rare, spring flood. Who was he to think he could face down such an opponent as this?

But his pondering made no difference in the end. Not as the River witnessed the Fire falling at last, succumbing to the lashes birthed of his own body. With a pained cry, he broke his stance, crashing down upon the ground with a mighty impact. All around him, the blaze grew brighter, the white flame almost obscuring him completely but doing nothing to stifle his screams. “No! No! Stop this!” he begged, his desperate words mingling with the sharp cracks and pops of the forest, ignited. “Put me out! Brother!

And so despairing were his cries and so broken his body that the River found himself stepping out upon the land before his foolish head could register. The ground was scorching, much too hot for him to tread, and every watery footstep dissipated as soon as it was formed. The steam rose from him, from all across his body, and he felt the pain of it down to his essence. But he continued, calling the mass of him to leap from the banks, directing the flood across the blackened ground. He could not do much, not with himself so far from his source. But he managed what he could, dousing the small flames licking at the tree trunks and sending the bulk straight towards the downed Spirit.

The two forces clashed in a cloud of battle, the cold water attempting to cross the violent corona of pure heat emanating from the Fire’s center. A great billow of steam arose from the skirmish and, for a short moment, the River thought it might have been enough. That the wave of him had managed to penetrate the other’s formidable defenses.

But when the Fire roared his retribution and the dampened earth crackled ablaze once more, the River knew his gambit had failed. He prepared to run, to retreat back to the safety of his domain. But the Fire had taken too much of him. He gazed in wide-eyed fear at the dry land on his every side and at the Fire himself, newly arisen and fast approaching him. He was unmoored, detached, cut off from the essence of himself. He was powerless.

He was dying.

He fell to the earth, white mist amongst ebony smoke, and lay prostrate before the Inferno, weakened here in the heat and the dry land. He struggled to move, to crawl, to stand, to do anything but lay before the fearsome power of this being he had sought to help. He could feel himself dissipating in the broiling air, the steam of him ascending to the sky overhead. 

From his deepest heart, he wished he had taken heed, had recognized the wisdom of his friend's words and not thought himself invincible. He wished he had bid him goodbye now, that the Boulder's mossy face might have talked him around as he was so good at doing. 

He looked up at the sky, hoping for one final glimpse of his Father but the light was eclipsed and the darkness prevailed. The River had not even tears left to shed, so dry and parched had his very self become. But would that he might weep, he would surely shed oceans. 

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you didn't deserve this. You should have listened, you fool!" The Fire still roared with hungry tongues of flame, but his words were as clear as those far-away tidepools where the River sheltered through the night. "You should have run far away and prayed never to gaze upon me again!" 

The Fire, too, turned his face upward, features morphed into a rictus of pain and disgust. "Will you leave him to die, then?! You're own progeny?! Curse you, Brother, and curse your foul gaze that cannot tear itself away from your Lady's glory! Ruin and damnation where your light touches, Brother! Ruin and damnation while you turn a blind eye!"

And though he lay weakened and sure of his demise, the River made note in the back of his mind of the words the Fire roared. ‘He calls the Moon "Brother" and berates him as such. But how could such a being of flames have ever looked upon that cold gaze and survived?’

Those thoughts soon fled as he felt the whole of him boiling and pain as he’d never known coursing through him. His body was fading, not even the mist of him left visible in the heat. His arms, his legs, his chest, all evaporating. The River closed what was left of his eyes. He could no longer see. Could only barely hear the wailing of the Fire as he shouted abuse at the sky. The River pretended he was cradled deep in his Mother’s waves, at peace in her cool depths and bathed in his Father’s light. He could almost feel the chill of her, that soothing coolness that once held him secure. The splash of her spray upon the rocks, the salty mist in the air, his brothers booming overhead, happy in their elements. He could almost— He could almost

The first drops that fell upon him barely registered. He was so far gone as to almost be incorporeal, the weight of him growing lighter and lighter by the moment. But as the wind picked up and the smoke shifted, he heard the Fire crying out, heard the almost inaudible susurrus of the rain as it began to fall. With each drop, he felt the life begin to flow through him as all at once he was able to see again, gasping up from his prone position to spy not his Father overhead, but the billowing thunderheads making their home in the sky. Could it be…?

With a great crackle and spark, a bolt of Lightning struck home at the tree beside him and he heard the glee of his brother’s cackle in the thunder that followed. Tiny rivulets had begun making their way across the scorched earth, the blackened soil being carried away into his own banks, rich sediment to travel downstream and foster new life. All around him the flames were doused, leaving him gasping in wonder. He heard the soft splash of feet alighting behind him and he rose to greet the Storm.

He was tall, towering, ever shifting with the tumult inside of him. He was all shades of dark and light, monochrome like his namesake save for the electric blue of his eyes. “Brother! What are you doing here?” the River asked, running forward on reconstituted legs to embrace the Storm wholeheartedly. He was caught up in his strong arms, cast about by the winds of him, caressed by the gentle breeze. The Storm smiled, a break of wispy cirrus across the towering thunderheads. He spoke like the rain, soft upon the River’s surface, harsh upon the land. “We are here for you, Brother. Our Mother bade us find you.”

The River rippled. “Mother? But how did she—?”

“Your rocky pal told her!” the Lightning spoke, a sharp crack and spark as he suddenly appeared beside them. “And a good thing, too, with how we found you.” The air was thick with ozone, the sharp, electric buzz of his embrace just as warm and comforting as the wind and rain of the Storm. The River looked upon him, upon the vibrant flashes of gold and ochre, violet and red, white and blue that coursed through his body. He felt energized in the Lightning’s presence, as if he held all the power of his Mother’s domain.

The three stepped back, the Children of the Sea and Moon, and beheld each other as the deluge continued to fall. The River let out a relieved sigh. “Of course. ‘Twas the Boulder, my dear friend. I owe him a debt, then.”

The Lightning snapped and twitched. “Do you not owe us a debt, then, for saving you from that— That monster?” He gestured behind him, a flashing arc of electricity striking another tree, reigniting its sodden trunk but for a moment before it extinguished itself once more. There beneath its ruined branches, a figure shivered, the once blinding light of him now diminished to naught but embers. The Scourge of the Wood was reduced, curling up upon himself even as the rain continued to beat down.

The River beheld him, so small and sputtering, and gave no thought to arresting his steps, not even at his brother’s calls. He could no more stay away from the Fire than the Storm could halt his winds or the Lightning refuse his spark. Beneath his feet, the water rushed, the heavy rain too much for the earth to absorb. He felt the flow of it, its downhill slope, the way it connected him to his own banks, now replete with this offering. The stakes had been reversed; in this moment, the River held the power.

But he approached not with the thought of violence in his current. No, he had heard the Fire pleading, begging, cursing on the River’s behalf. He had heard his wails as his own flames snapped at him, had seen his anguish in every step. And here and now as he cradled himself, flagging under the torrent from above, the River heard his whimpers, muffled as they were. And he… Just as before, he wanted to help. He held out his arms, a makeshift shield against his brother’s might, an aegis against the Storm. “Is there a thing I can do, oh Living Flame?” he asked, ignoring the indignant sparking of the Lightning behind him.

But the Fire, so small, so powerless now, asked for only one thing: “Bring the whole might of you down upon me, River Spirit, that I might be extinguished once more.”

The River could only sputter at the request. “But why would you—? Why would you ask that of me? Do you not desire to live as well?”

The Fire gave a rueful laugh. “Whenever I live, others die. Wherever I roam, the Spirits wail. And whatever I do, I cannot escape my fate. I am a wretched monster, River Spirit, always hungry, never sated. I burn , River, burn the creatures of the realm and the Spirits that therin do dwell. I burn them all. I burn myself. I am inexhaustible, dangerous. Not even you with all your waves could quell me.”

He covered his face with the ash of his hands, turning himself away from the River’s gaze. “I desire to live, River Spirit. And live I shall, in the next spark, the next ember, in every coal left to burn, every blaze gone wild. It is that wretched, pitiful desire that keeps me bound here, bound to destruction and death. Would that I might wish it, that I were able to embrace that death I so readily deliver to others. Would that this paradise flourished in my absence. But I cleave so to life and in so doing, doom the world.”

The Fire turned then, his eyes still so bright where the rest of him had faded, and implored, “And so I ask again: put me out. Let me rest. Give me this one reprieve until I am called upon again to bathe this world in flame. Please... allow me this.”

The River could feel the tears leaking now, his sorrow for this desolate, lonely, noble Spirit dripping down upon the sodden ground. And he once again thought of his Mother and her gentle waves, her powerful embrace soothing his woes. He reached out to cradle the dying Ember, ignoring the steam where the two of them touched. The River held him in his placid arms, rocking him close and feeling his Heat. This would not be an ending for him, he reminded himself. Just a chance for him to rest. And so, with the harmony of the rain and the gentle breeze and the sizzling crackle of the Lightning, the River sang to the Ember the Ocean Song as he slowly, slowly burned out.  

 

 

~~~

 

And so did the Sea rise up to behold,

the firmament, strong, and Her own shores, 

receding.

 

And so did She say unto the Moon,

"Let a part of me flow where the dry Land rests,

That your Light may shine down on the living."

 

And the Moon wished that, too, as He made their pact true.

"Let the River be formed; 

Let the Sea walk the Land."

 

The Sea spun from herself a tributary, strong,

Alike Her in essence, divergent in form.

And in Her waves, she cradled him.

 

And the Moon breathed down upon the Water,

And filled him with argent Light,

And Awakened his mind.

 

There in the moonglade of his parent's embrace,

There was the River born,

The Lifegiver, the Wrath, conjoined.

 

~~~


“The River’s Birth”

Chapter Text

The Sea was devastating in her beauty; the crashing surf upon the beach, the white seafoam between the breaks, the sprawling expanse of endless water — she tossed beneath the boundless sky, restless and dynamic, settling in the aftermath only to rise up again. She was Motion. And Vastness. And Power.

The River watched from his delta, the glutted waters of him flooding the low ground and enveloping the trees and shrubs. Here is where they met, Mother and Offspring, where his clear, fresh waters drove a stark delineation through her dark waves. Above him, the looming clouds of his brother teemed, the Storm moving outland and the Lightning following. The sky grew darker and darker as his brothers played, their mischief apparent as the Sea flew into a frenzy. The River stared, watching as she roiled, her waves cresting higher and higher until—

A great wall of water arose, dark like the sky and just as agitated. It stretched higher and higher, reaching towards the heavens, a grand partition betwixt earth and sky. From this wave emerged a face, the Sea herself splashing upwards in a powerful surge. The shifting tides moved always in her, cresting and plunging across smooth features. She came to him now, the Tidal Wave, her great form of destruction and devastation kept only at bay by her will alone. The dark maelstroms of her eyes turned down on him and the River felt the full weight of the primordial sea, an Elemental in towering glory.

At times, the River forgot the sheer presence of his Mother and the colossal power she wielded. But standing before her, so small, so infinitesimal, gaping up at her monumental form, he could not help but feel his own powerlessness once again, a pattern he found himself dismayed to repeat. He did not fear her, not ever, not like what he had felt in his short time engulfed in the Inferno… but he held an awed respect for her. He was not keen on the disappointment set across her stern face.

“My Son,” she greeted, her voice deep and lyrical all at once, the rhythms of the tides inundating her cadence, the bellowing of her depths flowing in her tone. “The Storm tells me you were injured.” And she made no implications, did not cast blame upon him, but the River sank down, nonetheless, ashamed of his actions and his accursed curiosity that almost stole him away.

“Mother, I—” He could not seem to muster the words to explain his own actions. He knew they were foolish and inexcusable. He knew he would have perished as like so many others had his brothers not found him in the night. He still felt the pull of himself casting away into the heated air and he rippled where he stood, casting his eyes downward. “Yes,” he finally managed, observing the stark border where he ended and she began. “Had you not sent the Storm and Lightning to aid me, I would have succumbed to the Blaze. I— I was foolish, Mother, but… But I cannot find it in me to regret. Not when— Not when...” He felt the memories running back to him full force as again the tears fell from his face. He dwelt in his thoughts, indulging his sorrow for his own fate. But also…

He thought of the Fire and those last, tender moments as the River cradled him close to his chest. And he found himself once more weeping not for himself but for that brave, sorrowful being who fought his nature at every step, who coveted life and was lost to regret. There was no Storm here to hide his tears, no Lightning to excuse his shivers. There was only the River and his sorrow and the remorse that filled his being. 

He heard the great swell of the Sea and felt the shadow of her casting down over him but it was not until he was safely tucked away in his Mother’s gentle arms that he found his voice again, wailing against her tides all the heartbreak left inside.

“I— I— I killed him, Mother!” he cried. “I held him close as you do to me and I— I snuffed him out. I… I killed him. I killed him…”

Her swirling depths curled around him, a comforting embrace that he let himself sink into. “My Child, peace. Peace. The Fire consumes all without cessation. It is all he knows. Did you not say he hurt you? That he sought to consume you? My sweet River, you must know that what you have done is a good thing, yes? The Fallen Flame could not be allowed to walk free for so long. What you did was natural. You restored the Order.”

But the River could not find comfort in her words. “No, Mother! It isn’t—! This was not of his own doing!” He drifted out from where he was cradled, climbing atop one of her waves. He could feel his resolve harden as he started up at her fathomless eyes. “He fought! Every step he fought! He mourned for the Spirits caught in his embrace but he could not break himself of the Blaze! He was— He was a prisoner to it, a victim like any of us! And when I could not offer him aid, he turned to the sky, besought the White Moon and cursed him, too, when no answer came! And he— The Fire called him ‘Brother’.” The River let himself be carried away by the current of his own feelings, the sorrow and indignation spurring him on to seek answers. “Please, Mother, I would hear his tale. I know you must know, for you have flowed through these lands as long as there have been lands to flow through. I… I must know what has caused this, Mother. If my Father is responsible. And if there might be some way I can ease the Fire’s suffering.”

He thought perhaps he had never seen his distinguished Mother caught so off-guard. Her waves rose even higher in her incredulity as she heard his plea, the dark pools of her eyes growing larger. “‘Ease his suffering’?!” she exclaimed. “You would seek to aid He Who Sought to Usurp the Sun?! He Who Sundered the Earth?” She shuddered in agitation and the River slipped along the crest of his perch, only managing to hang on by the barest of droplets. He did not fear the fall, of course not, but he could not afford his focus to be drawn away from the Wave and her dumbfounded exposition. He would hear what more she had to tell.

“What you saw, young one, was his punishment,” she continued, “the price of his hubris.” And perhaps she saw his struggle to stay afloat, for she drew him forth into her hand to cradle him, secure, bringing him up level with her colossal face. A sigh passed through her, like the howling wind across her surface. “But I suppose you are owed this tale, my Son, for all that your encounter with him left you with ideas.

“Long before your birth, before the Mountain rose above, before the Canyon split in twain, there was only the Moon and his love, the Sun, and the Earth and Sea below. The First Elementals came together to create the grass upon the land and the wind through the sky, the fish teeming in the deep and the creatures of the land. And for a time, all was good and well and that peace reigned.

“But the Moon had a Brother, jealous and devious. He had been cast away to the Void for his arrogance, living deep in the Star Fields while the First Spirits held Order. But he was not content to shine only amidst the endless Void, no. He returned to this place, shining bright, the glare of him seeking to blot out the very Sun, herself. He filled the sky with his rays, the glare of him harsh upon the land. And the Moon… The Moon despaired, for he could no longer gaze upon his Love.

“He struck down his Brother for his arrogance, casting him away from the heavens. And he cursed him thrice in retribution: that he hunger, evermore, and never be sated; that his own flames bind him to his task; and that he look upon the Moon and Sun with envy, never again to match their glory.

“And so did the Fire fall to the earth with a resounding crash... And thus was his Fate set, for the crime of his own making.”

The River felt a numbness roll over him like the winter ice upon his surface. He heard her words and understood them well. But accept them? He… He could not. Just the thought of it, of scarring your own brother so, of binding him to a life of endless torment… The River tried to imagine such a fate for the Storm and the Lightning and he found the current of him roiling in discomfort at the thought. To have such disdain, such hatred, for your own sibling… The River could not fathom it. He didn’t want to imagine binding his brothers down to be shredded by their own skin, shackled and dragged and made to destroy against their wills. He— He—

He heard not a word his Mother said as she placed him back upon the flooded plain, her comforting embrace splitting from him to return to her Ocean. She leaned down over him one final time, pulling herself up upon the land to lay a soft kiss upon his head. And the River loved his Mother, adored she who had cared for him and fostered him and released him out into the world. He still found comfort in her kiss. But he could not approve of her indifference. He said not a word as she settled herself back, sinking down and down further into the water until, with a final splash, she was once more the Sea in all of her vastness.

And with stinging eyes and throbbing heart he turned, making his way back to the meadow near the tidepools where he slept. His friend was there, the old Boulder by the sand, the worry on his face chipping away to relief as he spotted him making his way over. The two regarded each other, Spirits of Water and the Earth, before the Boulder beckoned him closer. And the River felt his face ripple with an eddy of despondency, felt the sharp sting of tears once more. And he threw himself against the Boulder’s solid form, not a word spoken between them, and wept for what he now knew.

The Boulder held him close, staring off beyond the trees where the black smoke still drifted, solid and sturdy and holding the River tight.


________________________



When at last his tears ran dry and that hollow ache had settled itself within the flow of him, the rain had already resumed its downpour. The River looked up, noting the trickles running down the Boulder’s striated surface, dampening the stone and erasing the evidence of his own weakness. He appreciated his brother’s forethought in the masking of his weakness.

“There now, little wave, have you run your course at last?” the Boulder asked, his weight still a comforting enclosure at the other’s back.

The River nodded. “I feel as if the whole of me has drained, my friend.” He cast his gaze downward, observing the tadpoles swimming in the pool below, these tiny lives fostered in his embrace. Would that they could rely on one greater than he… The shame of it all burned deep within him, not unlike the last night’s Flames that set him to boil. The rain upon his skin was a heavy weight, a reminder that without his brothers and his Mother and his trusted friend warning them all, he would have perished. “I am… I am sorry to have burdened you so. I—”

“Oh, come now, none of that,” the Boulder interrupted with a snort. “I would have you drip all over me a thousand times rather than fear losing you again...” His face cracked with solemnity as he looked off into the distance. “What weakness there is in compassion, young one, can be transformed. To strength. To resolve.”

The River found a great comfort in those words. The Boulder was right, he still had much to do and no time for pity. He could feel his own will reforming, a swiftly-solidifying ambition and a plan to surround it. He stepped back from the Boulder’s embrace, all the resilience of his crashing current there in his eyes. “Yes, my friend. I feel it flowing in me,” he said. “And… You heard my Mother’s words, yes? You know what grieves me so. And so you know what I must do, correct?”

The Boulder looked as uncomfortable as the River had ever seen him, shallow cracks driving furrows through his brow, his gaze pensive. “I can only assume your fool head has wrapped itself around some outrageous notion. Need I remind you that the Fire is dangerous, nymph? That you almost met your end at his hands?”

Ah, the Boulder knew him too well. “That is why I would ask your help in this, oh Son of Earth. I would not attempt another confrontation, that lesson has been learned. But still… I feel a need deep within, a desire to… put things to rights. I must speak with him. I must learn the truth.”

The Boulder sighed, the sound of a pebble skittering across a rocky plateau. “What would you have me do?”



_______________________



“Remind me why we’re doing this, again?” The Lightning crouched upon the Earth Spirit’s ridges, the Crag’s new structure giving him an advantageous overhang to perch upon. From his high vantage, he had no trouble making his displeasure known as he encouraged the flashes through the dark sky.

The Storm swayed in exasperation at his chaotic brother. “Have you forgotten?” he asked, vivid, blue eyes widening in disbelief. “The River has need of us.”

The Lightning sparked in agitation. “ Yes, your drippiness, I gathered as much. But why are we helping him reignite the Blaze that almost killed him?!”

The Crag rumbled. “You know as well as I that he won’t be satisfied until he has his answers. At least with all of us here, he cannot be overpowered again.”

The Storm nodded. “Correct. This will be no raging Inferno. Only one, small Flame, easily snuffed out should he attempt to harm any of us.”

The Lightning crackled but relented. “Alright, fine. Can’t have our dear brother enmired in misery, now can we?” He scoffed as another bolt struck down in the distance and muttered quietly, “There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.”  

The Storm gathered himself, the bulk of him tossing in the wind. “What was that?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing! Just keep yourself in check there, brother dear. A crosswind is stirring. Don’t let your drizzle wet the tinder down below, it already took me ages to dry it out.”

The Storm stared upwards, watching the treeline in the distance as it swayed in the breeze. “Ah, yes, you are correct. Thank you, brother.” And, as the Storm compensated for the wayward wind, his smile turned wry and he couldn’t help but tease, “You always did have such a way with the Gale, didn’t you?”

Both the Storm and the Crag laughed at the sparking bluster that resulted, the vivid shades of red now flashing in time all across the Lightning’s form.

The two were saved from retaliation, however, by the return of the River who regarded them all with some degree of suspicion as he surfaced. Seemingly thinking better of commenting, he proceeded to float his way beneath the covered overhang, dragging with him his burden. “I found quite a few floating along the surface,” he said, placing the untidy bundle of branches onto the sandy ground. “I’ve drawn out as much of the water as I was able from them, but it will be up to you, brother, to dry them completely.” He cast his gaze up the steep sides of his friend, meeting the Lightning’s eyes as he flashed quickly downwards from his roost.

“Yes, yes, I know my part here.” He sparked his way over, each step a sizzling crack echoing through their makeshift cave. The Crag above grimaced and grunted at the loud noise but he remained steady, a stalwart shelter as the rain pelted the land.

For his part, the River could do nothing but watch his brother work, once more helpless to do what was needed. And what’s more than that, roping the others into helping him when he knew they wanted no part of it.

But he… He could not remain idle on the matter. The things he had seen and heard remained with him, a boiling abscess polluting his thoughts. He could not abide the thought of standing to the side, not if an innocent truly suffered. But… could the Fire really be called such? Cast down here from his heavenly home, cursed to burn for all eternity? And by his own Brother, no less?! The River thought to his Mother’s words telling of order, justice, to his earthen friend confronting the subject with wariness and sorrow. Were they justified? Could this Spirit, the avatar of death and destruction, who had tried to overtake the Sun’s dominion and was banished because of it, truly have been wrongly maligned?

The River did not know… But he would find out.

And soon, it would seem, as a glowing ember registered in his sight. He looked over to where the Crag had fashioned a rocky basin amidst the sand. Inside sat the tinder and twigs that would be their fuel, the catalyst with which he and the Fire could finally commune. His brother sat beside it, slightly singed branches next to him, and his hands outstretched to engulf the dried leaves and grass. They were smoking in his hold, shriveling up upon themselves, curling in the heat. The Lightning was shining, bright, radiant, a deep, red light filling his eyes. He grunted with the effort, trying to control his immeasurable power, to tame the wild bolt he held in his hands. The crackling grew louder the more he focused, the sparks around him growing, bursting, scattering about the stone enclosure. The smell of ozone lay thick in the air, that heady scent mixing with the petrichor of the damp earth.

The River felt his other brother approach, the Storm loud at his back. He watched the Lightning, head cocked to the side, before peering up towards the heavy clouds, growing darker and darker by the minute. The Storm closed his eyes, the form of him bending to and fro in the gusting wind. All around them, the raindrops grew fat and heavy, the downpour washing over the land. And then, at long last, the Storm’s eyes flew open, that electric blue hue now matched with the Lightning’s form. A moment of hesitation, a calm, and then—

A blinding, flashing bolt snapped down from the sky, it’s jagged edges spilling from the black cloud overhead and communing with its host upon the ground. A great crack of thunder pealed out across the land and the Crag shuddered again, tiny pebbles slipping down the face of him. All through the River, tiny offshoots of electricity raced, a shock running through his current and filling him with a sizzling energy. Beneath the Crag’s enclosure, the dry area was set alight with the roaring, orange Flame, the tinder engulfed but the branches burning strong.

And then, all at once, three things happened: the Lightning stood in a flash, spinning around to point an accusing finger at the smirking Storm. “You! I was trying not to do that!” he yelled, a snapping spark shooting towards his brother; a strong gust of wind pushed through the air sending that spark floating sadly down to the sandy floor and from the blast, the Gale stepped forth in all his biting, swirling glory; and a loud wail sounded from the small pyre beneath the overhang, the Fire at last made manifest.  

The River snapped his eyes back to regard the Spirit he had sought to summon, discouraged to see him struggle just as fiercely now as he had in the bygone Wood. He ignored the Lightning’s awkward, “Oh, heeeeeyyyyy there, Windy. How’ve you been?” and quickly rose up resting his hands upon the basin’s walls to peer inside at his quarry. 

By necessity, the Fire was small, only enough kindling and branches there to feed a dim flame. But even so, the Spirit lay bound, his glowing, heated form being whipped around by the frenzy of his element. Just as before, his own flames surged forth from his skin in hungry waves, gnawing at the branches and whipping at his own, scarred form. Each lash sent a grunt of pain from his lips but he managed to find enough breath left in him to sneer out a, “So hungry for more, eh, Water Spirit? Could you not quench your thirst snuffing me out the first time?”

The River was just as stricken by his cruel words as he had been the first time and he recoiled at the Fire’s harsh mein. But only for a moment as his newfound resolve filled him. He would not shy away from him this time. He would match the other’s cruel speech with his own retorts. And perhaps, if his luck held, he would find a way to cut through to that vulnerability he had witnessed deep within his scorched heart and forge for them an understanding. 

However, before he could even find the chance to speak, a twirling gust coalesced beside him, whipping the Fire into a pained frenzy as the Gale came to kneel at his right.  

Fierce and gentle in the same breath, the Gale was a formidable force. He held within him the powers of the cyclone but could alight with the gentlest breeze. The colors of him blended and flowed, all the pastels of the sunset, all the monochrome of the night sky. He was as of two shades, the delineation of dawn, half of him cast in light, the other to shadow. His eyes sparkled and twirled, each of them divided, too, and he glared down with them at the nascent Flame below.

This is the Great Calamity?!” he exclaimed, the winds stirring again around them. “This small thing can barely keep itself alight much less terrorize the Weeping Wood. What… What happened to it?”

At last, the River found his voice and it surged like the waves he had been born to, a palpable fury in his words: “'It,’ you call him! As if he is not also an esteemed Spirit?!” He felt the current spring up around him, though he took care to not let it splash over the earthen walls.

But the Gale gathered himself in his winds, unafraid and full of an easy confidence. “Now now, River, let us both settle. I meant no insult. When Mother speaks of him, she calls him just the same. I had no idea you would feel so slighted on this one’s behalf.”

The Gale’s explanation did nothing to soothe the River’s unease but, for the sake of the Fire, tossed about by the stray Gusts, he thought it best to heed the other’s advice. He spared a quick glance towards the Fire and, though he smoked and panted and still flinched from his own blows, he remained burning steady for the moment. Their eyes met, the muddy brown of the riverbed against the flaring white light. And there again, that burning openness kindled an understanding between the two, an unasked plea for aid and a silent vow of protection, so alike and inverse from their last parting. And the River opened his own heart, fostering this tender trust between them. He felt a Vow settle at the core of him and wondered if there might yet be a modicum of civility to foster. But first…

“What business have you here, Wind Spirit?” the River asked, ignoring the angry sparking of his brother in the background. Outside, the Storm shook his head, a wry smile playing at his lips. The Crag remained silent, a steady presence at his back.

But the Gale swayed gently back and forth, an indifference to his movements, a false casualness. The River knew well the power at his call and knew to be at the ready should their words devolved into confrontation. Children of the Moon they might both be, but the River would not count this Spirit as kin, not as he claimed the Storm and the Lightning. The Gale held the duality within him, day and night, light and dark, life and death. There was too much unknown in him to trust.

And so the River remained where he was, standing guard before the small Flame. It would not save either of them should the Gale decide to attack, but the River felt his Vow deep within him and it satisfied some small part of it to remain. He only had a hope that the Fire might keep his unruly mouth shut for now, else he be snuffed out with one sweep of the Gale’s arm.

“I should think my business obvious, yes? Mother saw the destruction wrought in the night and tasked me to see it taken care of.”

“It has been taken care of. The Wood burns no more. The Fire is contained.”

“But still a danger.” The Gale moved back and forth across the sand, stirring the loose debris about his feet. He had a pensive cast to his face now, contemplating, assessing.

The River met that gaze, steady. “Not like this. And should he grow to be one… I have already driven him to rest once before. I am up to the task.”

A blur of motion and suddenly, the Gale was before him, a swift zephyr across the sandy ground. “Are you, really? How might I measure that trust?”

The River felt the maelstrom swirling in his depths and at the core of it, his silent promise. He would keep the Fire safe. He would do whatever it took to dissuade the Gale.

But fortunately, he did not need to.

“Hey, hey, hey, let’s take ourselves a little moment, shall we?” The Lightning sparked up between them, casting them apart. The gust died down but the Gale still regarded the intruder with narrowed eyes. “Windy, my friend, if I might have a small word with you over this way? Ah, perhaps you’d like to talk to my thunderhead of a brother again, yes? It’s been so long, hasn’t it? Come, come, let me explain a few things to you.” And, with a deft hand and steady spark, the Lightning herded the Gale out into the deluge, turning back to give the River a steady nod.

Impulsive and chaotic and mischievous his brother might be, but the River trusted him with all that he was. They three thrived together, River, Storm and Lightning, and the trust that came with that was unbreakable; he would not trade them for dominion over the whole world.

The River was shaken from his thoughts as the Crag rumbled down a creaking scoff at their antics and spoke in as quiet a voice as he was able, “That is certainly one way to draw his attention. But make use of this favor, little wave, before the Fire burns away and all this was for naught.”

The River nodded, resolute, and honed his gaze back upon the Blaze. Their eyes met once more, that same, unspoken trust underlying the exchange. And the River felt… The River felt a strange compulsion. A connection . Slowly, hesitantly, aware that this might be a mistake, he reached out to caress him, the steam once more rising between them. Beneath the coolness of his hand the Fire stilled, his wild thrashing halting at last as the River drove away the wicked bite of his own flames. And, for the first time in… centuries? Millenia? For the first time in ages , he was no more the Fire, the burning dread of the land, but the Heat alone, cradled by the River’s gentle touch. 

“I..” the River began, his shaky voice breaking the hallowed silence, “I feel this communion between us. And I want to help. I would hear your story, whatever you wish to divulge.” The two did not look away even as the stone around them creaked and the thunder sounded anew. “But I would have the truth from you. Will you give it to me?”

And the Heat, awed and amazed by the River’s gentle touch? At last at peace within his embrace? The Heat gazed up at the Spirit above him and said, “Let me spin you a tale...”

 

 

~~~

  

From the First Moment was the Earth:

A vast, empty wasteland encompassed by the Void.

And so lonely was He, so empty of Love, 

That He broke away a piece of Himself and placed it aloft.

 

Thus, the Moon looked down, barren and desolate,

And so alike the Earth in form and spirit,

And empty, so empty,

That He craved another, too. 

 

And He looked down upon the Earth from His high place, above,

And sought a better equal, one Bright and Shining,

In whose Light He could bask,

To drive away the hollowness.

 

The Moon collected the faint light of the Void,

And He molded it, shaped it into His own image,

And thus was the Sun given form,

A Light to soothe Her lonely love.

 

And the Earth saw what had happened,

And the Moon's face, illuminated, 

And He wept for such Love and for how they had forgotten Him,

Lost to their dance up above.

 

And in His weeping, His tears overflowed,

Spilling outward and upward all across the whole of Him,

And settling in His ridges where the Moon had once lain, 

And She cradled his edges; She, the Fathomless Sea. 

 

And from Sun and Moon came the Gale, 

And from Moon and Sea, the River,

And from Moon and Earth, the Mountain,

And from Earth and Sea, the Wood.

 

And Harmony dwelt there,

In the Domain of the Elementals,

And in their Offspring, the multitude of Spirits,

Until the Fallen Star was brought low,

And the Fire rained His terror.

 

~~~

 

"From Darkness”

Chapter Text

The wind howled its way across the open meadow of tall grass, jostling the raindrops from their swaying stalks and throwing them about like waves upon the Sea. They undulated evenly in the faint light of the occluded Sun, green and silver alternating back and forth amidst the heavy rainfall, rising and falling, reaching down to caress the Earth.

There in the meadow, waiting steadfast beside the flowing River, stood the Crag, his surfaces buffeted from all sides by the tempest, but holding firm, holding strong. Darting along his saturated stone, the Gale howled and the Lightning crashed and the Storm stirred in a frenzy all about, the three Spirits locked together in an earnest discussion. And there at the base of him, sheltered by his sturdy walls and outstretched arms, was the alcove where an unwavering glow cast shadows across the uneven surfaces. The glow of Heat, white-hot, rippling the air with his warmth. And there beside him was the River who embraced him without reservation, the both of them lost to each other and the balance between them.

“Please,” spoke the River as he gently encircled the other, “I would hear your story.”

A moment of hesitation, of the Heat steeling himself, and then a muttered, “Alright, then.” He closed his eyes, a grimace coming to rest upon his face, and spoke with ancient words laced with the experience of the darkness beyond. “In the far ages past, long before the Spirits' birth, there were only the Elementals, the foundations of the world. The stalwart Earth, the vast Sea, the resplendent Sun, and the… and the Moon.

The Heat took a breath to scoff and the River was again reminded of his connection with his Father, above. Such hatred, such vitriol laced through a single syllable...

“But there was another made with the Four," he continued. "An accident. An aberration . A fifth was formed when the Moon split from the Earth, for the break was not clean when the Living Stone splintered. That Shard came to rest in the sky alongside the Moon, following in his shadow, wishing for his regard.”

”You?” the River inquired.

And the Heat nodded. “Yes. Me. ” He turned away, hiding his expression in the coolness of the River’s hand. "Unwanted from the start.”

By now, the Heat had grown, no longer the fragile form of Fire the River had managed to hold in a single hand. The warmth of him was intense but… heady. And, as the flames began to lick at the exposed areas of his face once more, the River wasted no time on hesitation before wrapping him fully in his embrace. Again, the flames settled and again the Heat sighed in relief, the growing cloud of steam surrounding the two a welcome sight in their eyes. A silent gratitude filled his luminous eyes and the River was filled with contentment.

Enveloped now by the crisp current, the Heat soldiered on. “I followed him for what felt like a lifetime, the Moon… He was sizable, powerful, of a shape with the Earth and just as mighty. I… I wanted more than anything to be as he was, not a jagged, malformed afterthought of creation. A powerful Elemental, a force to be reckoned with! Someone worthy of acknowledgement!

“But… but for the time being I was… content with my lot, glad to accompany he who I called ‘brother,’ to share in his space. I thought perhaps he enjoyed my presence, too, small as it was. But he— But he didn’t even hesitate to replace me!”

There was an obvious rage on his face now and the River, coiled as he was around the Heat’s form, felt the burn of him in every eddy. He gasped but did not release his hold, only settled his waves to caress the other hoping that they might calm him as his Mother’s gentle rocking had once soothed his own self. “What did he do?” he asked, letting none of his discomfort leak through in his words.

The Heat sank in upon himself, covering his head with an arm as if to protect him from the memories. His other hand reached up to worry nervously at the dark blemish across his face. He seemed unaware that he did either. “We had roamed the void for so long side by side. Just us two and the Earth far below and the blackness encroaching from every side. My brother felt… unsettled by it. He wished for a light in the darkness, one that might shine upon his face and ease his woes. For he had seen the stars far off in the distance and he spent all his time pining for them, coveting their light.

“He began to plan. To detail how he was to steal their light away and hoard it for himself.” There was a certain heaviness to those words, a special emphasis the Heat placed on them that gave them a weight of bitter sorrow. “He spoke of it so often, of molding the Firstlights to fit his own ideal.

“And I… I who had been at his side since we had both been brought to bear, I felt that first, painful lash burn through me. He pined so for the light upon his face. And so, I… I thought to bring it to him. To become that which he yearned for, which he would gaze upon in awe. His equal at last.

“I set forth from his side and ventured deep into the star fields. And their glowing, their light, it pierced the heart of me. I felt powerful! I felt strong in their midst, not just the castoff of the Earth but impressive and dynamic and capable just as my brother was! I became what he wanted. I became what I wanted. And when at last I had drained the lights to a dim glow, I set forth to return, eager to see him finally look upon me with respect and approval.”

The River laid his head upon the Heat, the foreknowledge of how his tale would end causing shudders of sorrow to ripple through his form. He squeezed the other tighter to him, a steady presence he hoped the other might take some comfort in.

“But what greeted me as I returned… I have never felt such rage, such anger, as the sight of the Sun instilled in me. My brother had formed her, shaped her to match himself, perfect, peerless, a bastion of light shining out across the cosmos. And there he sat, his face turned toward her, enraptured! He did not even notice me. Me, who he had once called brother! Who had trailed in his wake for so long! Who set himself ablaze for him! He could not tear his eyes away from his creation!

“So I thought to make him! Light he had desired and light he would have! I let myself burn! I was through with tempering the flames now inside me. And the starlight within burned, a blinding better to this assembled imitation! I burned and I burned, hotter and hotter, brighter and brighter, until I eclipsed her own rays with the very essence of myself! And it was only then, only after he could no longer see her for my radiance, that the Moon turned his face away to regard the wayward castoff that had followed him for so long!”

The Heat flailed and thrashed in his grasp, his shining eyes seeing far beyond the small stone shelter and out to the realms the River could not even fathom. Even the cool breeze was not enough to temper the incandescent Heat.

The River did not let go.

“And what did he say then?! No kind words of welcome! No thought to ask of my travels! Not even a greeting! No, he let fly the accusations, instead. He railed at me, speaking of ‘abandonment’ and ‘ambition’ and ‘selfishness!’ He was enraged that I had interfered with his handiwork and that I now sought to take her place! And when I flung his own words back at him, of how he had forsaken me, of how he had replaced me and given prominence to a counterfeit, he struck me.”

The Heat was so intense that the River himself boiled, his only consolation being the cold banks at his feet. But the Heat had wreathed himself in an anguished corona, the scarred lines of his face bared in savagery and sorrow. The River witnessed the genuine emotion coursing through the Spirit, the true horror and betrayal and anger he felt. And he could do nothing but listen until his tale was through and try and soothe the jagged edges of him left behind in the aftermath.

“I did not know to expect the blow. And you see the evidence here before you, surely. “He gestured to the prominent, black scar bisecting his face, the only part of him cool to the touch. “If I am the Burning, the Heat, the Fire, then the Moon is the Freezing, the Cold, the Ice. We were as two opposites, matched, primordial forces pitted against each other. But as ever, I was no match for him. He, the Colossus, he, the Wisdom, he, the Elemental. And I, ablaze though I was, could never hope to contend.

“And so… And so, my own brother struck me down and I fell from the heavens never to return. And upon me, he laid his curse. And so I am bound, forced to suffer for all my days in the burning dregs of my once-mighty power… He is inventive in his cruelty, I’ll give him that.”

The Heat exhaled a rueful laugh, the sound of defeat in his voice. And at last, the swelter began to abate and only the sorrow was left to him and a hollow set to his voice. “I came into this life as an afterthought. Is it better to leave it an enemy?”

And he bowed his head, lost to his grief, the flowing stream that wetted his face the only tears he could shed.

And the River held him in his grief. He did not let go.


_____________________



How much time passed while they cleaved to each other was uncertain but when at last they surfaced from their shared communion, the rain had lightened to a drizzle and the sun was peeking through the gaps in the clouds. The landscape around them shimmered in the light of day, the dewy drops clinging to every surface and setting the land alight.

The Heat and the River paid no notice as they pulled back to regard each other, each with a glint of pure awe in his eyes. Awe and a deep, abiding trust that settled into their deepest hearts.

The Heat reached up then, gleaming hands coming to rest on either side of the River’s narrow face. He stared at him, white eyes aglow, and said, “How can you be real?”

The River only smiled. “You would know if I were not, surely?”

A huffed out laugh, a noise rusty with disuse, issued from the other. “Unless I have at last taken leave of my senses, little puddle. Unless I see you only as a dream.”

The River laughed, too, the bright babbling of the brook. “Then we dream together, tiny spark. Then we dream together.”

And what more was said was without words, every feeling between them flowing from one to the other, unceasing, a tide of emotion bracketed by trust and devotion. There was something unspoken between them, a bond, a connection. Within their conjoined hearts, it pulsed in time as they let loose their joy, their eyes affixed on each other as their forms shook with laughter.

They reveled there for a moment, delighted by nothing but the presence of each other, before—

A sudden spark and a crackling boom and— “Alright, alright, alright, this is all very well and good, you two, but we cannot stay overlong and we have much yet to discuss. So if you would…?”

The River looked up to behold the Lightning, so quick and so bright and so very, very smug, and past him to where the Storm and Gale also stood. A deep well of embarrassment rose up within him, a force so powerful it felt as if he’d been caught in one of his Mother’s maelstroms again. He could feel himself undulating with agitation but still, he did not let the Heat go. The same Heat who had his lips quirked into an easy smirk at his discomfort, an expression of spirited amusement adorning his face. And the River was once again entranced at the sight of him happy and content. He had caused this. He, the River, the son of this Spirit’s greatest adversary. The waters of him settled and determination took hold; he felt the vow he had made to protect the Heat pulsing within him as he turned back to face the others.

“Discuss?” he inquired, a suspicious glance aimed the Gale’s way.

But the Lightning only sighed. “Yes, dear brother, discuss. Did you think we sat idle as you told your little fireside stories? No, we have been trying to discern what to do with this… rather unprecedented situation.”

The Gale swept up beside him, nodding. “It is as he says, River. This is not a situation I had anticipated when Mother bade me end the destruction. But your brothers made some… eloquent points in your favor.” He swept an offhand gust their way but the River just rippled around it and the Heat showed no effects. The Gale frowned but continued. “I have questions, first. Before I agree to aid you.”

And the River found himself at a loss. He could not say he was expecting such an offer, not with the circumstances of their meeting earlier. He had expected that he might have to fight, to vanish back beneath his waves with the Heat at his side, sheltering in the depths until the Gale had blown himself out. He certainly did not think he might offer aid.

Eloquently, he asked, “What?”

The Gale just quirked his two-toned face into a little half-smile, an openness there that was usually missing from him. “Is it so outrageous to fathom? That I might hear of a misdeed and seek to set it to rights?”

The River, still wary, cast him a solemn gaze. “No, not at all, Warden of the Winds. You are a swift justice meted out to all transgressors.” He tightened his grip on his calescent companion, the desire to shield him from harm still bubbling away inside him. “Except that at morning’s light, you sought to destroy him—” he gestured to the Heat, “—but now past the noon, you’ve managed a change of heart? The wind blows fickle, Moonchild, but not such a shift as this.” He narrowed his eyes, mustering the full force of himself to writhe amidst the tidepools. “I would know why.”

But it was not the Gale who answered him.

“Though my rains streamed down with a great force, they could not hide your words from the Wind, himself.” It was the Storm who called his attention, now, the form of him growing faint and wispy as more and more sunlight caressed the fertile land. “Your words carried easily to where we had convened. And offered much insight. We have heard the Fire’s plight and it has led to some… shifts, as you said.”

And at last, tired of being shielded within the River’s flowing form, the Heat came to bear, bringing with him his biting words. “Oh, lamentations for the Fire! Oh, pity for his wretched form! Where was your understanding prior, hm? Where was your change of heart last evening!? When you brought the force of your power down upon me, struck blow after blow until I was but ash? When you called me monster?!”

“Well, what were we to think when you acted as such?!” The Lightning was riled, the sparks of him flashing, trying desperately to find an anchor in the meager clouds above. “You burned down the Greenwood! You killed many Spirits in the night! You almost killed our brother, the one you hide behind even now!”

At those words, the Heat snarled like the crack of breaking metal and and the air danced with his torrid rage. He tore himself away from the flow enveloping him even as the River tried desperately to hold on, the blazing fever of him sending the liquid to steam once more. The River could not keep his grip, could not restrain the other within his cooling influence. And thus, the Heat stepped forth, the flames bursting from his skin anew, and became the Fire once again.

“Who’s hiding, Bolt! You think your meager sparks can singe me?! I, the Vessel of Flames, consumed in my waking moments by the burning! You do not scare me!”

And though the Lightning was sometimes foolish and oftentimes reckless, even he knew of what danger he faced here and now as the Fire set his tread upon the green grass. His flames reacted immediately, hungry, ravenous, as in the meadow the pyre grew. The Lightning shuddered backwards, his energy all but drained with the Storm struggling to hold even a light mist now.

But even as his fate approached him with burning steps, a new force stepped between them. There, the Gale stood strong, the grassy meadow whipped into a frenzy by his winds. “And you think this is how to go about proving to us you are not some mindless thing?!” he called. “Have you taken leave of your senses?!”

The gusts stirred the calm waters into a frenzy and the River, a horrified bystander thus far, responded in kind, already climbing up from his banks in pursuit. He had to—! He needed to reach—!

But the Storm blocked his path, his fading, cirrus wisps looking on in anguish. “Please, do not! He is too far inland, you will burn yourself away just as before!”

And the River gazed upon his brother’s face and knew his words were true. He looked on, helpless, hopeless, caught between his vow of protection and his own anger at the Fire’s recklessness. Being goaded by the Lightning, of all things! Leaving him behind for the sake of his own, foolish pride! And now look at him, shackled by his flames once more, driven to feed the hungry pyre. The very core of him ached at the sight and at the fact he could do nothing.

But all action halted as the earth itself rumbled and the land began to shake. The River rippled across his surface; the Storm and Lightning shuddered; the Gale’s eyes focused upward to look beyond his adversary; and the Fire, helpless as he was to cease the flames dragging him, still managed to twist himself enough to gaze backward.

From towering heights, the Crag glared down, the shards of him shaping and twisting, breaking and mending as he set himself in motion. From the sharp drops of him formed a hand and, with surprising alacrity he moved, his great, stony grasp encircling the Fire tightly and lifting him from the flaming field.

The burning Spirit struggled mightily, thrashing and lurching between the cold, wet rocks. “Curse you, idiot stone! Release me! Release me!

But the Crag held him firm, a considering look upon the face of him, equal parts angry and forlorn. It made for a striking contrast upon those ancient features. “Settle, young one, cease your flailing.”

And the Fire did stop at that, but only to sneer up at the Crag. “Young one? I am more ancient than anything on this forsaken earth! I have known the void and its all-consuming blackness! I have seen the Firstlights made manifest! I have—”

“Yes, yes, you’re exceedingly important, we all heard. I sheltered you through the Storm, tiny flame, I know of your ordeals.” His brow cracked with furrows as he stared the Fire down. “And I have witnessed your metamorphosis. You held such control over yourself in the River’s embrace. Did you not know peace, then? Did you not desire it?” He huffed out a great, dusty laugh, the sound of grinding stone. “There is a bond between the two of you, little flame, that you would do well to foster. Do not throw that away for such a meaningless confrontation. I would have your word on it, flighty as it may be.”

The Fire sneered up at him but, as if by force, his head snapped away to stare back towards the River, still distraught in his brother’s hold. Though a significant distance lay between them, it was as if they could see into the heart of the other, see the panic and desperation,  the anger and humiliation.

“Please,” the River whispered as the Fire began to sputter.

And, wonder of wonders, the Fire relented, no longer thrashing in the Crag’s hold save for the autonomous buffets of his flames. “You will have my word, then. I swear it.”

And that seemed good enough for his earthen friend, for he gave one great, creaking nod before moving once more, bringing his burning captive down closer and closer to the water’s edge.

And the River wept even as he reached out, once more engulfing the other in the essence of him, reining in his wicked punishments and reveling in the relieved sigh he gasped out.

The Storm, finally content with both his brothers safe again, felt the pull of his nature. He had tarried too long in this place and the last of him was fading in the Sun's rays. He gestured to where the Lightning still sat huddled, stunned, behind the whipping Gale. The Bolt arose from his crouch, sparking eyes full of complicated emotion as he watched the Fire give way to Heat once more. He flickered slowly towards where the Storm waited, so uncharacteristic for a Spirit usually so full of energy.

But he gave pause as he drew level with the Gale. A spark and a gust danced together where they met, some great significance in the action. Their eyes told of something more, something akin to the same bond that allowed the Heat to be held safely within the River’s current.

But the Lightning could not linger. He drew level with the fading Storm and, with one final, backwards glance toward the Gale and a wry smirk sent towards the River and Heat, the two of them departed, pulled along by the promise of new lands to dance upon.

The Gale stared long in the direction they'd headed and the crosswind that had buffeted the field suddenly changed course, a strong gust propelling their journey. From his banks, the River still watched him, wary, but the Gale took his time approaching him and his companion, casting nervous glances their way as if afraid to interrupt their reunion. But when the River caught his gaze, he nodded, a clear sign for the Gale to join them.

“I… I had not expected to see such a thing here, River, Heat. Such a tempering force upon so powerful a being…” He had a far away look in his mismatched eyes but his malice had long-since retreated. “I will… speak with my Mother. About a solution. Your way is… You are right, there are better options to consider than smothering him every time he dares show his face.”

The River and Heat both stared up at him as he gave a small nod and a smile. “Look for me in the new dawn, esteemed Spirits. I will fly with all haste!” And, with a strong, bracing breeze, the Gale took to the skies where he made his home, sailing onward and upwards towards where the bright Sun cast down her rays.

The Heat and the River spoke not a word as they watching him depart and they continued to do so in the aftermath. All around them lay the dewy grass and the ash upon the meadow, the evidence of all that had occurred. The larks sang out and the fish below swam without a care. The two Spirits, bound by trust, driven by loyalty, comforted in each other’s embrace, looked on, content for the moment and bracing for what was to come.

And keeping his silence and his watch, the Crag sheltered them both and pondered what they had unlocked.

 

~~~

Before the first Light were the Moon and His Twin,
Fashioned from Earth,
Embraced by the Void,
Celestial stones keeping watch in the Dark.

Together They sailed through the sable Abyss,
The Moon at the fore,
The smaller Shard, trailing,
They in Their hearts tied together as kin.

But the Moon soon grew weary of that endless night,
As he witnessed the Stars,
And their radiance, shining,
And so set forth to fashion a Light of His own.

And his Twin saw that longing and knew His intent,
And grew cold at the thought,
Of His Brother’s unease,
As He looked far beyond the embrace of His Kin.

The Shard stole away from His place high above,
Setting out for the Stars,
That His Brother so coveted,
To take for His own all the Light that they stored.

And when He returned, the Meteor Ablaze,
And was met with the Sun,
And His Brother beside Her,
He felt within Him the Wrath and a Wicked Desire.

And in fierce immolation fueled by Envy and Longing,
He burned away all ties,
To the Moon and His Form,
And as Fire Incarnate, laid siege to His Rival.

And thus did the Brothers come to blows in the sky,
With both Hatred and Love,
At the heart of Their feud,
Alike in Desire and broken in Bond.

~~~

“The Firstlights”

Chapter Text

“Are you injured?”

The quietude of the near-empty meadow was broken by the softly muttered words, the stillness that had settled with the Gale’s departure, broken. They were solemn, muted, and the Heat wondered at the difference that made.

From the very first moment he had sighted the River, that foolish, little Spirit peeking up at him from over his banks, he could not help but notice the life flowing through him. Every word of challenge, every ill-advised step, every valiant struggle, they all painted for him the image of a vivacious being, capricious, demanding, brave. But compassionate, also. Even from the start, he had only sought to help. And with every steaming step, he’d faced down his own demise for a chance to do so. And when the Fire begged, when he pleaded for him to put an end to his torment, the River had done so, reluctance in his every move. He’d held him close and smothered him with his own crystalline tears.

He was not accustomed to such kindness. Had not thought the other would be moved so by his words. Oh, his demise had been imminent, yes, but the company? The emotion? The River had wept for him and—

He did not understand.

He still didn’t. He sat here now at what was perhaps the most baffling part of their entire acquaintanceship. He was wrapped securely in the River’s embrace, his flames held at bay by the rushing waters, his soul at peace after an eternity ablaze. And deep, deep within the very core of him formed at his birth, he felt the pulsing, that strong, powerful aura so akin to that peace, a formidable current keeping his very soul safe. It was a warmth unlike any other, no heat, no fire, only… only a trust, a bond, the promise of companionship, the knowledge that they would never again be alone.

He did not understand.

“My friend?”

The Heat started from his contemplation, glowing eyes quick to focus back on his companion. “Ah, no, no, worry not. My wounds have already healed without the flames to tear at me.”

The River eyed him up and down, assessing the truth of that for himself, before nodding. “Yes, so it seems. In that case…”

He had come to expect many things from his first and only friend: stubbornness and bravery, protectiveness, attentiveness, a glaring streak of self-sacrifice. What he did not expect was to suddenly be hoisted from where he sat, the River’s mighty current carrying him away with ease into the teeming shoals below. The cold hit him all at once, the runoff of the snow-capped mountains that drained into these banks. The glow of him dimmed and the scar across his face ached something dreadful. He had a moment of panic, of fear, wondering if he had once more fallen prey to a being who sought to betray him, but—

The bond still pulsed within him. The River still held him, secure. And in a few seconds, it was all but done, the other Spirit lifting him back up to sit upon the land again.

“Wh— Wh— Wha—?” he sputtered, his arms wrapping around himself even as the River engulfed the whole of him. As much as he despised her, he could not help but bask in the Sun’s own rays as they filtered through the pearlescent water that coated him, the warmth quickly returning to his skin.

The River lay beside him, beneath him, overtop him, encircling, encompassing him on every side. "That was for trying to hurt my brother!” he shouted, a muffled echo from all directions. But he also let himself settle, too, pulling him over into what felt less like a flood and more like an embrace. The River’s arms came around him, their bodies pressed tight. “And this,” he spoke softly, his head resting upon the Heat’s shoulder, “is for stopping. For… returning to me.”

And from inside and out, the Heat felt his power, the warming water caressing his skin, the River’s vow of protection resonating deep within. And without conscious thought, he found himself reciprocating.

“I will always return to you.”

He felt it as those words took root, germinating within his companion’s watery depths. And as if something had been set right within him, something long since dislodged, the Heat felt… calm. Steady. Dare he say… in control? Their promises to each other circled and twined, combining so tightly they could never fully be parted. There in their very cores, they found a balance like the beating of a heart, a song sung together in every vibration.

He did not understand… but he did not need to.

__________________


The two of them sat there, reveling in each other’s embrace for a long while afterwards. The midday sun slowly moved westward, the afternoon fading into the low light of the evening as they spoke with each other, the warmth of contentment enveloping them both. And when dusk settled in at last, the fading violet blanketing the horizon and tucking the Sun into her slumber, the Crag finally found it in himself to relax his guard and sink back down into his earthen home.

He had been watching them, studying their interactions from his high vantage, ready to intervene at any moment should the little spitfire prove volatile once more. But the way they held each other, completely entwined and inherently trusting in each other’s space, it made him think that perhaps what he had seen earlier in the Fire’s face had indeed been the truth, that this gamble would pay off.

The Boulder was old. Old and broken, fractured by time and hardship and ineffable loss. He had been witness to the Great Calamity, felt the Sundering of the Earth, that time when the Meteor had been cast from the sky and been loosed on the world as the unquenchable Fire. The encounter had scarred him, left him broken, shattered, though the Fire himself knew nothing of the destruction he had caused. He had been naught but a mindless beast back then, screaming his rage up to the heavens, stoking his flames higher and higher in puerile fury. And when he unknowingly set alight the Greenwood—

The Boulder did not sleep, did not dream in the night. But the nightmares haunted him, nonetheless. Cursed visions of his beloved offspring, glowing orange and red and yellow, his wails of anguish singing through the air, nothing left of him in the Fire’s wake but the brittle, blackened Coal.

The Boulder could not weep, could not cry. But the core of him had cracked apart then, shattered like his body had been. He had felt the hollowness inside of him since that day, the open space and jagged edges like a geode growing within him.

But as he looked at the Heat now, content within the River’s gentle embrace, the Boulder spared a thought for comparison. The Devourer, the Fallen Star, the Calamity, those titles weighed so heavy… They all seemed such an ill fit now. He, held in that flowing embrace, cherished and cradled; he, the glowing warmth, the Heat; he… Beloved of the River.

The Boulder was old. He had seen many things. But the harmony made manifest here between these disparate forces drew him back to a time before the Sundering, back to the days when peace and order reigned. There was a Bond between them much like the Elementals of old, a communion, a song, delicate and burgeoning…

He thought once more of the Greenwood burning, of the Fire and his mindless rage, of his own stationary helplessness. Of the cycle of death and rebirth, of the Wood returning altered each time, no memory of his Father. Of the still-smoking Coal that was all that was left of him even now, so far beyond the Boulder’s reach.

He thought of the Fire’s own plight, of the touch of compassion that had tamed him to the River’s side and that growing Bond keeping them together. The Boulder quaked with a desperate hope, a solution to the madness that had haunted the world for so long finally in sight. A chance for renewal, for new growth, for… peace. It laid here in the liminal spaces where the River and Heat met and in the wellspring of affection that became the steam between them.

And he would not hinder its growth.

___________________


The tidepools where the River sheltered overnight looked the same as they always had. Same still water, same shallow depths, same habitat for tadpoles and minnows and skittering crabs. It had only been a day since he had last settled here but it felt to him as if the world had been inverted, all the things he had known in his short life flipped upside down with the upheaval. As he let himself splash amidst the natural basin, no push or pull of his current demanding his attention for once, he looked over towards the main source.

The Heat rested along the stony embankment very near to where he had been summoned earlier in the day. The soft glow of him lit up the small pool, the lambent light casting a luster upon the flittering shapes and soft scales and gleaming shells down below. A gentle steam rose from their point of contact, the Heat’s feet kicking playfully back and forth through the water, face delighted with the simple joy of it. The motion soothed the River, the languid strokes like a caress across the flow of him, and he found himself smiling to match his companion.

“Such a delight for disrupting the order of things, tiny spark. Do the ripples fascinate you so?”

The Heat’s easy grin pulled tight into a smirk as he looked the River’s way, aiming a splashing kick towards where he floated. “Surely you’re not one to talk, little puddle! Always moving and flowing and splashing about! I’m surprised you can abide the calm!”

A deep chuckle from behind sent another ripple through him and the River glanced over to regard the Boulder and the amused glint in his eyes. “He’s got you there, nymph. It is a great rarity to ever see you still.”

He let his face morph into an expression of outrage. “Oh, I see! We must all take a side to bully the poor River, is that it? And here I thought we were friends!” His over-exaggerations seemed to have sufficed to draw forth more amusement for both the Boulder and Heat gave a laugh at his faux outrage.

It was… odd, to say the least, to see the two of them so in sync but the River could not help but be overjoyed by this development. From the altercation earlier in the day, as well as the unspoken reservations he seemed to have in the first place, the River had not expected such friendly overtures from the old rock. And likewise with the hostility the Fire had shown the Crag earlier, he had not expected a rapport to develop. But something seemed to have… changed between them, some hidden malice, washed away. Here and now, they held between them an easy camaraderie that the River could not help but be ecstatic over. He watched them with a smile, sated and warm.

But their easy peace did not last.

Cresting high over the jagged mountain peaks, the first light of the Moon reflected a silver glow across the land, his cold, pearlescent sheen painting the night in monochrome. The waxing gibbous was shining bright and nearly full and his silhouette was large and intimidating.

The Moon. The Second Elemental. The River’s Father… The Heat’s enemy.

Such conflicting feelings assaulted him at the sight, familiar pangs of longing and curiosity of course, but now undercut with the bitter tang of suspicion and doubt. A quick glance towards his companions showed vastly different expressions. The Heat, to no surprise, had creased his face tight with a potent, seething hatred, the glowing lines of him pulled taut and the dark blemish across his face furrowed and warped. Even in the brightness of the moonbeans, there was a visible increase in the glow of him, and added intensity as if to fend off his brother’s touch. He had stopped splashing his feet through the water below.

In contrast, the Boulder’s gaze never left the Heat. His eyes — no, his whole form — held a weight of gravity and solemnity. It was a look he wore often, that distant gaze that seemed to assault him at random. A hollowness lived inside him at these moments, the encompassing Void. But… But not entirely this night. There was the shine of… of something there in those polished, cobalt depths and when he turned his gaze skyward that the light might reflect upon them, a great wave of determination calcified across his whole form.

Such wholly different reactions in them both at the sight of his Father… But how did they compare to his own thoughts? Here in the darkness, he looked upon his silvered sire and thought not of him staring back in pride or approval… The River stared into that night sky and, as if seeing clearly for the first time, let his newfound revelations wash over him.

He had always loved and revered his Father on high. From the very moment of his inception, cradled tightly to his Mother’s bosom, he remembered the Moon’s shine casting over him and the comfort it had brought him. The Sea spoke often of him regaling the River and his brothers with tales of their Father’s intelligence and power, of his hidden gentleness and humor, of how he loved them all and showed it by keeping them in his light when he was able. She had held him close and whispered him tales and he had soaked up every word like a dry bed in a sudden shower. And since his infancy, he had taken her stories as truth, inundating himself in his Father’s light and basking in his perceived approval.

But even then, convinced as he was of his Father’s love for him, he could not help but feel… bereft. From his immovable banks upon the ground, the River had longed for the touch of his sire, for a connection like that which he shared with the Sea. She assured him often and always of how much the Moon cherished his children, yes, but… On lonely nights when he had drifted away from his Mother’s shores, when his brothers had been far afield and he had no Boulder to lap against in the dark, he would find it within him to try and gain his Father’s attention.

“Hello, Father! It’s me, the River!” he would call, the moonlight glittering off his surface. “I know you must be dreadfully busy way up in the sky. Well, Mother says so, anyway. But I would sorely love the chance to meet you? Or to hear your voice just once?” The deafening silence was never enough to halt his giddiness. “I have so much I wish to tell you of, Father! If you might only spare a moment! I’m sure Mother won’t mind if our meeting is brief...”

On and on he would plead with the stillness and never, not once, did he receive a response. He wondered why each time, wondered if the Moon was too preoccupied with his own business as his Mother had suggested. Wondered if he might just be too far away to hear the pleading of his minuscule offspring. Sometimes even wondered if… if it was his own fault, if his Father had deemed him too insignificant to take notice of. It was when those thoughts assaulted him that he would seek a distraction, riding his current recklessly and reminding himself that this is what he had been created for, that he served his purpose very well. Sometimes he would go to visit his Mother, to hear her words of reassurance that his Father loved him. Sometimes he would sit with the Boulder, his steady presence like a balm to his soul. Sometimes his brothers would whip him into a frenzy and they would spend the day at play, carefree and joyous and at home in their elements.

But every night the Moon would rise again and the River could not keep that seed of doubt from sprouting. He still looked to him with a venerable love and an awed respect but sometimes his light felt so cold…

Looking up from his shallow pool now, the River felt that same shiver run through the body of him, a chilled ripple across his surface. As if by instinct, he drew closer to where the Heat sat, drawn to the warmth of him where they were still connected. Sidling up beside him, the River spared a moment of hesitation, his hand arrested mid-movement. There was no Fire here, no raging blaze in need of his tempering. The Heat, he was agitated, yes, but he was still in control of himself. Surely he did not want the River hanging all over him yet again…?

As if reading his mind, the Heat finally tore his gaze away from his estranged brother, turning to look at where he hovered in indecision. One glance at his outstretched hand had his face smoothing out, the harsh glare dying down in unison with the blinding glow of him. His radiant eyes met the River’s own as he reached for him, the Heat’s own hand wrapping around his watery digits. Immediately, a flush of warmth wended through him, the Heat’s own power driving away the chill and drawing him ever closer until they were entwined together once more. 

“You looked troubled, little puddle,” the Heat said, voice muffled in their embrace. He drew back just enough that he could look the River in the face, his visage crinkled in a confused sort of worry. “Is this, uh… Is it something I might… help with?” His words spilled out, nervous but fond, his care as atrophied and disused as was the River’s hesitation but no less sincere for it. “I’m, uh… I mean, you can talk to me. If it would help. If you wanted.”

There was something in that clumsy delivery that warmed the River even more than the Heat’s own touch, an awkward charm that brought a smile to his lips. He felt a laugh bubbling up inside of him as he dove forward, clasping the other tightly to him. “Who am I to pass up such an offer?” he whispered, replete with the Heat’s warmth, both inside and out. “Thank you.”

“N-Not a problem!” The Heat’s stuttering words accompanied the River as he reigned himself back and he couldn’t help another chuckle sputtering forth. Oh, this Spirit… It was no lie to say that the River was completely enthralled by him.

For his part, the Heat was staring at him, wide-eyed, something akin to awe or wonder smoothing across his expression. A quick shake of his head and a nervous chuckle and then he spoke up once more. “So, uh… What had you so down?”

Even wrapped up in the Heat’s embrace, the River could not keep the shiver from running through him as he turned his face away. “I…” He glanced once more up to where his Father sat in the sky, nothing but a few, solitary wisps of cloud and the dim starlight accompanying him. He turned back to his companion, determined. “I was thinking of my Father.”

The Heat flinched. Flinched! As if a solid blow had struck him. The River felt the telltale tremble course through him from where the Heat’s hands rested upon his shoulders. “R-Right. Son of the… Moon… Right.”

His words has distressed the Heat for all that they were true. But the River would not let him ponder his (no doubt) rather dark thoughts a moment longer. In an effort to distract him, he blurted out, “I have never met him, you know!”

His tactic seemed to have worked for the Heat’s head whipped up, his shaking hands clenching down upon his form. “What?!” The incredulity was clear in his voice.

But the River only nodded. “I spoke true, yes. Never, not once since the moment I came to awareness, have I ever been in his presence. I know not what form he takes or his demeanor… I don’t even know his voice. The Moon remains as mysterious and out of reach for me as he is for any other so tied to the earth. I have never been able to reach him… and he, it seems, has never cared to reach me, either.”

The Heat said nothing, eyes still wide and staring. And so, the River continued on, a nervous babble falling from his lips. He regaled him of it all, of his Mother’s words, of his own doubts, of his attempts to reach his absent sire. He spoke of his desire to believe, of the cold comfort of the moonlight, of the bitter chill it sometimes filled him with. He laid himself bare, all his insecurities, draining himself down to the last dregs of his core.

And a curious thing happened as he spilled himself out. Delving so far down uncovered something, a wound long since hidden, a rotting, festering thing, like so much carrion dropped within his banks. It sat there, a scar upon his mind, a laceration buried far beneath his waves. He had never even known to look for such a wound, was never made aware of how much it might have tainted him. But here and now, finally free to see the truth before his own eyes, he wondered how he could ever have missed it. Such a deeply lodged hurt, the severed end of what might once have been a relationship… The River gasped as it felt the sting of the air for the first time.

A soft drip drip drip echoed loudly in the still night air, the crystalline tears making their way unimpeded down the River’s anguished face. They shone with prismatic light, the glow of the Heat casting small rainbows across them both as they fell.

But soft noises whispered in his ear, a steady hand cupping the back of his head and bringing it down to rest upon a shining shoulder. Soothing, glowing fingers carded through him, reassuring ripples reverberating across the whole of him.

“Shh now, it’s alright, it’s alright, I have you.”

The River could only shake his head. “It isn’t alright. I have been such a fool! This knowledge, it has been poisoning me for so long but I could not face it! Only let it sink deeper and deeper, weakening me with every passing night.”

“Hey hey, none of that now. It is no shame on you to wish so for a father’s love. It is on him and him alone and that it would cause you to doubt yourself so is yet another sin I might pile at his feet. But it does not make you weak!”

“But I—”

“No, no caveats! Not for the River, the bravest, kindest Spirit I have ever had the fairest luck to meet!”

The River did not know what to say to such… accusations? But the Heat continued on, nonetheless. “To think that you, of all beings, could be considered weak?! It is absurd.” Swift as the current, the Heat reached down, snagging the River’s hands with his own and holding them tight. “Such a betrayal… it digs deep, I know. But you cannot shoulder the blame for another’s evil. Do not let him curse you as well, sweet River. Do not give him such a hold on you.”

And deep within him, down down down where the wound had lain dormant, a blaze now formed, a steady, controlled gout of flame encircled by their hardened bond of affection and trust. There within the deepest reaches of him, a healing pyre burned away the rot, purged the poison, cauterized the wound. 

And it ached, oh, did it burn! And though it now had the chance to heal, the phantom pain remained, reminding him of his loss. Or, rather… reminding him of what he had never had in the first place. Inside of him, the Fire remained, a dancing warmth, a burning aegis. And though he had finally faced the truth of his parentage, he was not alone in his grief. 

There upon his surface, the River surged forth and enveloped the Heat, the great, crashing wave of him enfolding the other within. No more tears fell as he faced his truth head on. And in his waves, the River caressed the Heat’s face with a fond tenderness, laying his forehead down upon the other’s. “Thank you!” 

The Heat reciprocated, stroking a hand along the River’s chin. “It is a brave thing, facing the truth of one’s own family,” he said.

But the River only shook his head. “No. I can see now that… that he has never been a Father to me. And I can no longer honor him as such. I am a Child of the Sea, always and forever, but the Moon… he is a stranger to me. I have no ties to him like my Mother or my brother or my friend. Or… to you…”

The Heat wrapped him fully in his embrace. “You have cast him away, then? No more a Moonchild?”

The River let out a contented sigh, resting his head upon the Heat’s chest. “No more a Moonchild. I have found that lately… I much prefer the warmth.”

The Heat looked down, that lovely, crooked smile upon his lips. “Don't need his help to see in the dark, eh?”

“No,” he smiled, “there is no need. I have found my light.”

 

_______________



Up above the Moon still shone, a dispassionate light that could not penetrate the golden glow of the shallow basin. The Boulder looked on, his heart so heavy for the River’s grief. Such things as this would linger despite the admirable way the Heat had helped him through it. But they had time, they had hope and, most importantly, they had each other.

The tidepools no longer looked the same, not with the Heat’s light illuminating them. The Boulder thought it apt and gave a little chuckle. To see the difference now, he only needed to look below the surface.

 

 

~~~

 

When the Earth was young and the Sea had formed,
And the Moon filled the sky with his form,
And the Sun rained down Her lifegiving Rays,
Then did the first Seedling take root.

From his parents’ bosoms was he birthed,
Where the Land met the Sea,
Where the Elementals kissed,
And in nourishment he grew, and in favor.

From Seedling to Sprout to young Sapling,
He lived and he thrived in their care,
In the strong arms of his Father,
With his Mother’s song to lull him.

Time passed quickly by and he grew to great heights,
And spread out his green-clad arms,
So too did he spread himself as a great multitude,
The life of him planted in each seed that fell.

From the Ocean’s shores and far across the Earth,
The Wood grew steady and strong,
And covered over the barren places,
And filled them with life.

And for ages he reigned with the Sea and the Earth,
And the three of them loved and rejoiced.
With his Mother and Father there by his side,
He knew naught but the peace and the calm. 

It was naught til the Breaking that all three were split,
And the first touch of Flame licked his roots,
And he cried out aloud for his parent’s embrace
As he, helpless, succumbed to the Scourge.

~~~

"The Greenwood's Demise"